What’s hip on Degrassi Street
For new generation of TV characters, back-to-school wear is about looking real
When the original Kids Of Degrassi Street hit the airwaves in 1979, tween style was sweet and sporty, with floral prints for girls and Adidas shirts and jean vests for boys.
This summer, sitting at their classroom desks in a Don Mills television studio, the cast of Degrassi: The Next Generation is outfitted in tie-dye T-shirts and low-rise denims. Body-piercing is prevalent and the boys wear more beaded jewelry than the girls.
“This show isn’t about fashion,” explains costume designer Kim Gibson. “But it is about looking real.”
And real kids are into clothes.
This latest incarnation of the highly acclaimed Degrassi series, airing in October, introduces a new generation dealing with the trials of adolescence.
Characters include Emma, who is Spike’s daughter from the original series, and her Grade 7 and 8 schoolmates. Emma is fond of flirty denims and cute pastel sneakers.
There’s also Jimmy, the boy who has everything, including the latest snowboard fashions, Ashley, the trendsetting perfectionist, J.T., the class clown whose personality is as lively as his wardrobe, and tough guy Spinner who likes silver earrings and black clothes.
On set, surrounded by a ragamuffin crew clad in baggy chino shorts and sloppy T’s, the kids appear stylish in a low-key way, avoiding the extreme looks found on some other television programs.
“American shows are so over the top in terms of style and colour,” Gibson says. She “grays down” the wardrobe with oatmeal-coloured dye so colours don’t pop, and uses indelible fabric markers to black out brand names and logos. The latter is to avoid promoting any particular brands.
This is where things don’t reflect reality in the least. When the young actors sit down to eat in the studio’s lunchroom (which doubles as a set for the school cafeteria) they’re asked where they like to shop. And the responses are very familiar: Roots, Old Navy, Club Monaco, Gap, Le Chteau, Jacob Jr. and Sporting Life.
A few of the girls are big on Over The Rainbow, the independent casual wear retailer on Yorkville Ave.
As far as brands go, preferences include Miss Sixty, Parasuco, Sugar, Luscious, Modrobes, Vans and DKNY.
When asked to list their favourite back to school looks, the replies include cropped pants – from cotton khakis to sweats that are rolled up to below the knee – denim skirts and low-rise jeans.
Too much denim is overdoing it, however. “Wearing two colours of denim together, like a denim suit – that scares me,” says Jake, who plays Toby Isaacson the new series.
Music videos are a major influence on fashion choice, with band T-shirts, leather jackets, belts with double rows of grommets or western-style buckles on the hit list.
Sports also play well with this crowd, who like hockey jerseys, visors and Oakley sunglasses.
Eyewear with clear lenses are cool, too, even if vision isn’t a problem.
“A lot of my friends are buying glasses just to wear for fun, for a different look,” says Cassie Steele, who is Manny Santos on the show.
Of course, tastes are as individual as they would be in any group of 12 and 13-year-olds.
Christina Schmid (she plays Terri MacGregor) is into skateboard gear. She likes And 1’s and Dawls: both are brands some of the others aren’t aware of.
The girls are in agreement, however, that even though miniskirts are in, they are not for school. “Short skirts are too uncomfortable to sit in in class,” laments Lauren Collins, who plays Paige, a character she describes as, “the trampy, mean one.”
For Gibson, satisfying the casts’ tastes and reflecting each character’s personality is complicated by the pressure to keep up with fickle fashion trends.
“If it meets their approval and they tell me it’s something they would wear themselves, that feels good,” she sighs.